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Johnny Hekker's punting master class draws raves, hugs from Rams teammates

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McVay praises Hekker and Donald for MNF win (2:22)

Sean McVay discusses the importance of punter Johnny Hekker as well as the defense bouncing back behind the leadership of Aaron Donald. (2:22)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Chuck Berry's classic "Johnny B. Goode" blared from the SoFi Stadium speakers as Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker sprinted down field to catch up to his 63-yard boot and join teammates in a party after pinning the Chicago Bears deep in their own territory.

Yeah, go, Johnny, go!

Teammates swarmed Hekker, and star defensive tackle Aaron Donald wrapped him in a bear hug in a celebration typically reserved for a touchdown and rarely seen for a punt.

"It is just great to know that Aaron Donald knows my name sometimes," Hekker said, laughing, after a 24-10 victory. "That guy is such a star in this league. I love AD."

A ninth-year pro who has mastered several unconventional punting techniques, Hekker's ability to flip the field proved crucial Monday as the Rams improved to 5-2.

"He really was a weapon for us," quarterback Jared Goff said.

Hekker pinned the Bears at or inside their 10-yard line on all five of his punts, none of which resulted in a Bears score. Three of the five punts resulted in a three-and-out. And Hekker's four punts downed inside the 10-yard line amounted to a career high and the most in the NFL this season.

"The gunners played their tails off for Ted Ginn, one of the best returners of all time in this league," Hekker said. "For our guys to be kind of in his face, be forcing him to not catch balls and letting them bounce and then we got bounces. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't. When they come in bunches like this, it's fun."

Hekker's first punt was down on the Bears' 7-yard line. His second, their 10.

And from there, the momentum grew, as the bounces continually favored the Rams. Rams wide receiver Nsimba Webster downed the third punt on the Bears' 1-yard line, the fourth went down on the 6, and the fifth came to a stop on the 5.

"I'm not usually getting off the bench for a punt," said Goff, who was among the Hekker enthusiasts after the game. "And that one he hit, the big one he hit in the fourth quarter I believe that came down and stopped inside the 5 -- it's exciting; we understand how important field position is."

A four-time Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro who has a career net average of 44.3 yards -- the highest of any punter who has played since 1980 -- Hekker demonstrated a unique ability to punt the ball while holding it horizontally across his foot, rather than aligning it vertically, which is a skill he says he developed over the past few years and has served as a great tool.

Hekker called the technique a "proprietary secret," before he eventually revealed how it's executed.

"There is nothing crazy to it," Hekker said. "Hold the ball sideways, swing through the inside part of it and it spins sideways. It is kind of a good changeup. You got a returner that is kind of hugging one side or the other, I am trying to punt it away from him and give our gunners the best chance to go down there and down it."

Hekker joined the Rams in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, and when the Rams returned to L.A. in 2016, he quickly became one of their most recognizable players because of how often he took the field.

But since Sean McVay took over as coach in 2017, Hekker's skill set has been needed less often because of the offense's efficiency. McVay even admitted earlier this season that he’s usually "pissed" when Hekker takes the field because the offensive drive stalled.

But on Monday, even though it meant a few shortcomings on offense, McVay marveled at Hekker’s performance.

"He was phenomenal," McVay said. "Exactly what we expect. We don't ever take it for granted, but he came through, and I wasn't surprised, but we're definitely appreciative of the effort that he had. ... It was a big-time deal."